United Kingdom Bartók, Mozart, Bruckner: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Camerata Salzburg / Ben Gernon (conductor), City Hall, Sheffield, 14.3.2015
Mozart :Violin Concerto No. 3, K216
Bruckner::Adagio for strings
Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major K201
This was one of the strangest concerts I have ever attended. After over 50 years of concert attendance, I have never experienced a programme like this one. In two words, it was upside down.
The symphony that ended the evening was finely presented by the small orchestra who obviously had a strong affinity with the teenage Mozart. It would have made an ideal opening to the concert. The naive innocence of the music framed in a structure that was totally understood by the childhood genius created one of the most wonderful of his early symphonies. The youthful conductor, Ben Gernon, enjoyed dancing without a score before the players as he clearly emphasised with the young composer.
The Skrowaczewski rescoring of the Bruckner String Quintet in F is only a partly successful enterprise. His tactful addition of double bass does bring more point to certain moments. The fine violas of the Camerata Salzburg swept the work along once the second subject was introduced, but the dense timbre in the first subject and the thick acoustic of the awful 19th century hall created a muddy effect. Perhaps this work would have made a better choice just before the interval – giving the audience a chance to recover.
Nicola Benedetti is a fine violinist. Although much comment in the interval centred on her dress, her hair and her general appearance there is no getting away from the fact that her violin playing is of the highest order. However, perhaps she was slightly out of sorts in the first movement of the concerto. Apart from a couple of scuffed notes (which were of little importance) there was a distinct separation between her and the orchestra when the order should have been playing together as if in chamber music. The technical reason was obvious by the second movement. The strings of the Camerata Salzburg retain a tight vibrato in their clean presentation of Mozart. The soloist’s wide vibrato in the first movement would have been more appropriate for Max Bruch. But once the second movement began, she seemed to melt into the music and created a sound which matched the strings that surrounded her. The third movement danced happily to the end and she then treated the audience to an encore – another Mozart miniature, the Rondo for violin and orchestra which she played with verve and humour. This would have made an ideal work to begin the second half of the concert.
The highlight of the evening was a performance of Bartók’s Divertimento. The radical contrasts between the full string sound and the solo string quartet was well presented despite the very small contingent of players. The virtuosic flights by the leaders were superbly executed and both the first and last movements could not have been better performed. But the central movement was something different: one of the most committed and impressive performances of this masterwork I have heard. They brought out the beauty and terror of this sound world in a way that would have left those members of the audience more concerned with music than appearances very happy to have heard it at the end of the evening.
I have little doubt that I shall always remember this concert backwards.